Sunday, January 1, 2017

Books of '16: Recommendations

When reading works of any length feels like a pastime in peril, choosing wisely feels more important than ever.  In service of helping you choose wisely, some recommendations from among the books I read this year:

Best of the Year: Non-fiction

Feeding the Mouth that Bites You; A Complete Guide to Parenting Adolescents and Launching Them into the World, Kenneth Wilgus, 2015

Our church's youth pastor, Alex Banfield Hicks, gave us a copy of this book.  My competent wife read it first.  Wilgus provides a framework for "planned emancipation" and points out how what adolescents need from their parents differs from what children need from their parents.  Adolescents are searching for the answer "when will I be an adult?"  He somewhat crankily calls out adults for failing to answer that question for themselves and getting confused in their own immaturity about how to relate to their teenagers.  I crankily agree with him.  Not to give away the store, but Wilgus implores us to get real about what we can't control in our teenager's lives and explicitly cede that control to them. In so doing, we trade control we didn't have for influence we still can have and which our teenagers need.  In one analogy, he says it is easier for a judge to impart moral lessons than a cop.  Because I read this at home while also reading professional books relevant to my new job at work, I found myself slogging through some of this book.  But it's very valuable and gave us a new framework through which to think about parenting adolescents and some useful tactics to put that framework into motion.

Honorable Mentions: Non-fiction
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett, 2013

Best of the Year: Fiction

Old Filth, Jane Gardam, 2004

My competent wife loved Old Filth.  Her law school classmate, Cassie Christopher, did too.  Perhaps it's because the eponymous protagonist is an English solicitor who makes his career in Hong Kong.  Filth is an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong."  This sublime novel beguiles with elliptical storytelling and well-formed characters.  Gardam depicts her various settings with rich detail in sparse language.  The novel covers a long sweep of time - a lifetime - depicted in bits and pieces with flashbacks and foreshadowing.  Certain aspects of the story we never learn.  We just have to take them on faith.  Actually, we apparently don't because Old Filth is the first book of a trilogy.  The competent wife has read the second book - Last Friends - and says that that one fills in the gaps.  This would be a very satisfying novel on its own, but I feel fortunate that there is more to read and discover about this one story arc and set of characters. 

Honorable Mention: Fiction
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett, 2016

1 comment:

Anne H. said...

Thanks for the thoughtful recommendations, Jeff. The ideas about parenting sound
very useful. I don't need them, of course, but now I can sit back and judge you guys!